How can a parent ensure their child’s happiness and safety after they’re gone

sos asks: How can I ensure the safety and happiness of my child after my death?

Hi sos –

Of course, your question is one that every parent in history has asked.  Although some other animals only nurture for a short time (like us dogs), or don’t nurture at all (“Hey I laid the eggs, you’re on your own now!”), humans have a gigantic protective instinct that kicks in during pregnancy and never leaves.  Can you imagine any other species insisting on getting together every year for holidays, or leaving inheritances of property to their young?!

This is one of humans’ greatest qualities.  I suppose it exists because human babies are born so early, compared to other species.  We puppies are able to walk almost as soon as we’re born; most humans take a year to learn that skill.  Imagine what would have happened to any human baby who didn’t have at least one parent who wanted to stick around and take care of them for more than a month after birthing them!

Because of this instinct, every parent wants to ensure that their children are safe and happy throughout their lives (I know some readers will point out that there are parents who don’t seem to have this instinct at all, and abandon or even abuse their children.  I would argue, however, that those parents are in conflict with this instinct inside them, but it is still there).  And that wish continues, as you express in your question, to after their own passing.

So is it possible to ensure this?  Of course not.  A parent can’t guarantee that their child is safe in a car next to them, or on a playground with them watching, or even in their own house.  And no one can ever guarantee happiness, for themselves or any other person.  At any time – much less after they’re gone.

What a parent can do, however, at any and all times, is their best.  They can do everything in their power to help their children have the possibility of safety and happiness.  Here are a few suggestions for ways to do this for your children, given the assumption that they will outlive you.

1)    Leave a will.  As the old line says, you can’t take it with you.  If you have any money or property, arrange to have it bequeathed to your children when you’re gone.  And the more you can do to make sure that it’s fairly distributed, if you have more than one beneficiary, the better!

2)    Give them self-esteem now.  We hear every day of rich kids becoming drug addicts, alcoholics, etc.  Money sure didn’t keep them safe.  Whether your values are religious or intellectual or even purely social, you are the person who has the most power over your kids’ views of their own value and importance.  Let them know how special they are.  Let them know what you hope for, and expect from, them.  And let them know that, when you go, their happiness and safety will be all you’re hoping for.

3)    Live a good life yourself.  If your kids are stuck with cleaning up a big mess of debt, guilt, and shame from your actions, that’s not helping them towards happiness and safety.  But if, instead, you leave a legacy of kindness and honesty, all they’ll have to do when you go is grieve.  Which they’ll likely have to do a lot!

4)    Leave the world a better place.  You can’t control everything in the world – no one can – but every time you throw trash out into nature, or shame a child, or commit a cruelly selfish act, you make the world a worse place for the future.   See if you can live a life such that, at the moment you leave this life, you can look back and say that the world was better for you having been here.  If so, that means a better world for your kids and theirs.

5)    And here’s my favorite – write them a letter.  If it can be book-sized, so much the better.  Tell them what you’ve learned in your life.  Tell them the mistakes you made, and what you think you should have done differently.  Tell them the best decisions you made (which might include having had those kids!).  Tell them what you did differently from your parents, and how you hope your children will make different decisions to yours.  And tell them what you feel for them.  That gift would, I think, do more than anything else to make their lives better after you’re gone.

Though, yeah, money never hurts!
Thank you for the wonderful question!



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